Co.Design

Why Apple's iPhone 5C Case Is Pure Trash

Sloppy design details in Apple's iPhone 5C case reveal Cupertino's casual disdain for people who cover up their iPhones.

You may love the iPhone 5C case. And that's totally fair. But I hate it.

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. The iPhone 5C case looks like a Connect Four. But that's not what I hate about it. With the iPhone 5C, Apple is trying to channel a certain casual playfulness compared with the austere beauty of the iPhone 5S. So channeling the visual design of a colorful game from the mid-'70s is a clever design stroke. The case is also spiritually faithful to iOS 7's new look as a whole, which is all about the juxtaposition of bold complementary colors within geometric grids.

We’re sold so far. I know what Apple is going for here. I can see how Jony Ive might have been playing Connect Four with his daughter one day when, all of a sudden, inspiration hit, his eyes rolled white and colorful polypropylene started unspooling itself from his mouth until this particular iPhone 5C case had been formed like a pattern of ectoplasm, hovering in mid-air. Nice work! But here's what I don't understand.

Apple is known for its rigorous, iterative testing process. For every product Apple releases, it likes to brag a hundred products get thrown into the bin because some small, niggling detail was wrong. How, then, could the iPhone 5C get manufactured in bulk without anyone at Apple ever actually putting one on an iPhone 5C to see how it looked? Because that's the only explanation that makes sense to me considering what the iPhone 5C case looks like when used with an actual iPhone 5C.

Here's my specific complaint. On the back of every iPhone, Apple prints some text. First, the word "iPhone" is printed in big letters. Then, underneath, a box with rounded corners says how much storage the device has. Beneath, Apple's famous "Designed by Apple in California" slogan appears. Finally, the scrawl is finished off with the device's model number, FCC ID, and other legally mandated regulatory mumbo jumbo.

If the iPhone 5C case merely hid this text, I'd have no problem with the design. Nor would I have much of an issue if a little window had been left open for it, or at least the word "iPhone." They could even have moved the polkadot grid to the top of the case instead of the bottom and I'd be fine. What is mystifying to me is the way the polkadot grid of the iPhone 5C case half-obscures, half-exposes all of this text. It looks terrible, like a Playskool fishnet stocking that has been sloppily pulled over a sign.

Just look at this thing. Three letters in the word "iPhone" are obscured. In addition, there wasn't even a cursory attempt to line up the size and spacing of the case's perforations with the size and spacing of the printed text. So when you put on an iPhone 5C case, your iPhone doesn't say iPhone on the back. The "iP" and "e" are obscured, as is the very top of the "h." So instead of "iPhone," it says "non." Which is exactly what some token Frenchman working within Apple should have said when he saw this thing actually pulled onto an iPhone 5C for the first time.

The reason Apple missed this is because Apple execs don't besmirch their iPhones with cases. They go bareback, and think you should, too. Sure, they'll sell you a case, because they cost pennies to make and retail for $29.99 a pop--the magic condoms of the gadget world. But in their heart of hearts, they don’t think anyone should actually be using one. What this missed detail shows is what Apple really thinks about people who buy iPhone cases: If you want to use one, you’re probably some clumsy slob who doesn't care much about the details anyway.

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49 Comments

  • Joshua Young

    Man, you guys are really reaching here, aren't you? I usually enjoy articles written with some semblance of opinion, but you FastCo really takes it to a whiny new level sometimes. I think I'm done. It's been... interesting... while it lasted.

  • Jussi Sivonen

    I wouldn't be worried about how the cover holes look, but rather how they will accumulate grease from your palms and fluff and lint from your pockets. It'll be a tasty mixture after some use....

  • lgcldesigns

    I LOVE that the author of the above rant is from Boston :-) Having been raised in Quincy, I share his predilection for sarcasm and criticism. As a fan of Apple's and being, myself, a product designer, I have to agree that the cases for the iPhone 5c are, well, a f#%ing disaster! Launching this case is like wading into shark infested waters with an open wound. Apple is inviting Samsung to close in for a big chomp by publicly revealing that Apple's internal departments aren't working together well. The 5c case foible is hardly a minor oversight. For a company that strategically leverages design, and spends countless hours sweating the smallest details about colors, fonts, textures, materials, and surface forms, the pure ugliness of those haphazardly covered up bits of text on the back of the 5c is an outright failure.
     
    Maybe Jony Ive was so distracted by his new responsibilities of leading design on the software side that he was too hands off on the new hardware. You have to wonder was Ive even directly involved with the cases? You'd think so, given how relatively well designed, and innovative, the iPad's smart cover and case were when first launched. Maybe the same people who designed the iPhone 4's antenna-gate mitigating bumper are also the team behind the new iPhone cases? If so, I think it's time to get a new design team.

    One more rant: did anyone notice that the camera cutouts on Apple's new cases, especially on the leather cases for the 5s, are way smaller than Apple's own recommended keep away areas marked on their own case design guidelines document?

  • Viktor

    It is an UGLY case! Worst Apple design decision ever!

    How about to make the phone durable so it wouldn't need a case?

    Nokia - Lumia phones - colorful and very very durable (I had 920 and now 1020, very durable)

    Seem
    like Apple is not innovative anymore... for a while, more playing
    'catching up' with the rest of the world and technology. 

  • Danny Casteen

    as a person working in design, it drives me NUTS to look at it, such a blatant DESIGN oversight, really shoddy, I'm a HUGE Apple fan, just hate to see 

     attention to detail slipping.

    \

  • Audio Guy

    Oh for Chrissake ! When your iPhone is in your pocket can you see this? When you are on the phone and it's up to your cheek can you see this? When it is laying face up on your desk waiting to light up with an incoming call can you see this? 

    I see what is going on here. It was a slow news day and you just needed to fill up a page in order to keep the hits coming and the ads served up. 

    I'm done reading you. Sorry, inane stuff like this is simply not worth my time or relevant to real life.  

    P.S. Did you ever notice how the red band along the waistband  of your underwear clashes with the color of the inside waistband of your Levi's? Shouldn't Fruit of the Loom have consulted with Levi's before they decided on that? MAJOR error on their part, wouldn't you say?

  • Robby Kraft

    haha, Do you realize you wrote a whole article about how the iPhone case covers up part of the writing? Which is cool. Nothing wrong with that.. just, saying.

  • Guest

    No one could have argued with this article if you wrote about the fact this case is a collection cell for dirt and grime. The fact it covers up the logo is something to note but not worthy to base a whole article of. This is a company that has come out with numerous models of the same product and never put out a case, just a bumper. They frankly my dear do not give a damn.

  • ianthetechman

    It is a horrible looking piece of plastic with holes in it. Simple has that really I don't know why anyone would ever wanna use one on there new phones

  • modsuperstar

    This is so true. I have a cassette case on my iPhone 4S and it drove me nuts that a) I was using a case and back was exposed through the tape wheel holes and window in the middle and b) I could see a portion of the Apple logo through it, which took away some of the cool factor of the case. I ended up buying a black Banana Skin for the back and underlaying it behind the case. This was a 3rd party case maker, but exact same problem. There is a certain vanity to having an iPhone, to which I won't deny, so having design faux pas like this is just such a no-no. That being said, I would never pay $30 for an Apple case. I'd buy a cool one off eBay for $5 like a sensible person.

  • Audio Guy

    I have the same black cassette case and this "problem" can be solved with 2 cents worth of black electrical tape.

  • Mathew Smith

    I can't believe that no one has noted that after one month you'll take off the case and your phone will have dirt circles on it from where the polka dot phone cover is void.  Don't leave it in the sun unless you want faded spots on your actually phone.  That is the real design flaw, if it doesn't even function properly it doesn't matter what it looks.